(Image credit: “The Seven Lively Arts” mural by R. York Wilson at the Sony Centre in Toronto)

The future library will not be a bricks and mortar institution, but distributed and decentralized.

Imagine a library full of not books, but performing artists. As you walk down the aisle, you can experience any sort of performance you can think of – and a great number of ones you couldn’t even imagine.

If such a library existed, I would spend all my spare time there, happily getting lost, exploring every art form.

Such a library is physically impossible of course; you can’t keep people the way you keep books on shelves,. The performing arts are a living breathing presence in our society, not a precious artifact to be protected and preserved in a time capsule.

But what if this “special collection” was housed in a library without walls, continuing to service the public by providing information access, building the collection based on patron’s interests, and creating programs that fostered deeper engagement with the performing arts?

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On the one hand, we have romanticized notions of what libraries, museums, and archives are all about, in part because it is really hard to imagine what they are like without the familiar elements of books, shelves, and a public space imbued with the spirit of the commons.

On the other hand, the spirit of information access for the public good is more relevant than ever. Corporate interests are informing new information policies, some of which will take away the benefits of net neutrality—the idea that the access to the internet should not be artificially limited—in favour of internet providers asking consumers to pay to access certain content, and going as far as limiting our choice by making some information impossible to access.

Our digital footprints are also becoming a liability due to innocuous – or at times sinister – reasons. Rarely do we have a critical understanding of how companies behind social media platforms and cloud computing services handle our information, and what happens when the companies are bought and sold, or simply change their terms of service and privacy policies as their business evolve.

The digitization of our lives has made every artifact, thought, memory, experience, every moment a potential item in a new kind of “library collection,” filled with pieces of information that are now made more tangible by having a digital form.

We have all been empowered to be our own personal librarians, the only thing stopping us is the inclination and making the time.

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The future library will not be a bricks and mortar institution, but distributed and decentralized. The services and programs will be mobile and delivered anywhere, collections will be gathered from more grassroots and independent sources that are often overlooked as gatekeepers of human knowledge in their own right.

Future collections will not be limited to books, but expanded to consider digital artifacts of all types and forms that are being generated at an incredible exponential rate every day.

The lack of a physical library doesn’t eliminate the need for interactions in real life. It means that a library can deliver services in places where it best serves its patrons, and we can create “living” collections, like the one filled with performing artists.

It will still be a library concerned with serving the public, curating and building collections of human knowledge, and protecting the rights of individuals to seek it out without fear of judgement.

It just won’t look like anything you’ve ever seen before.